A planet of business diversity

2016 1512 In Good Company | Northern Rivers

Tropical Fruit World

29 Duranbah Rd, Duranbah

Visit Tweed Northern Rivers -01
A planet of business diversity

It’s been almost 50 years since Robert and Valorie Brinsmead bought the 200-acre farm in Murwillumbah. In that time the couple have raised four kids, welcomed six grandkids, and built the much-celebrated empire that is Tropical Fruit World. With the farm at its centre, it’s a business with many arms, including a commercial exotic fruit market, a nursery, a café, a high-end restaurant (Plantation House), bottled products (both skincare and food), and a Northern Rivers tourism mecca.

Tropical Fruit World general manager, Aymon Gow, says Bob is known for collecting fruit from the farm for his breakfast every morning, and this was no different on the morning of his recent birthday.

“I ran into Bob coming up out of the packing room,” Aymon says. “He said, ‘88, feeling great’.”

Bob is still involved in strategic direction and planting decisions at Tropical Fruit World, which is much more than a business for three generations of the family. Bob and Valorie’s eldest daughter Judith Brinsmead, a former barrister and solicitor, is the managing director and speaks with Aymon daily, while also leading her national construction company ADCO from the Gold Coast. Her son Tom Hill is also a director.

“It’s a special thing, this is their family farm, not just a business for the family,” Aymon says.

Although Aymon is not a family member, Tropical Fruit World has been the centre of his career for the past 25 years. He started there as a tour guide when he was 19 (and when it was still called Avocadoland) and has worked his way to his leading role. 

“We encourage staff to present the farm as though it were their own… They’re proud of what they’re doing”

The business – which was awarded 2021 Business of the Year in the Tweed Shire Awards – employs 45 people (not including the restaurant which is outsourced and now known as Fins at Plantation House) and it naturally draws nature lovers to the team.

“Our mission statement as a business is to inspire people with nature, and we are always looking for people who live that lifestyle,” Aymon says. “And we encourage staff to present the farm as though it were their own, and they do that. They’re proud of what they’re doing.”

Such is the connection that a former tour guide recently dropped by to share exotic fruit cuttings he’d found while on holiday in far north Queensland because he knew the farm didn’t have those varieties yet.

This guide was one of many employed by Tropical Fruit World who’d lost his job through COVID. “We’d normally have five or six guides running tours a day, and now we have two.”

Aymon says COVID came at the end of the busiest summer the Northern Rivers had experienced, with record numbers of visitors to the area.

“And then by end of February flights were being cancelled. Forty per cent of our tourism business was international and that disappeared instantly.” 

A cornerstone of Tropical Fruit World’s business strategy has always been diversity, both in the markets it relies on and in the range of its business offerings. So, this held the business in good stead, even amid a global pandemic, as they tilted operations in new directions.

“We looked for opportunities we did have within a COVID-safe plan. We were able to run small early morning walking tours that sold out. We ran workshops. We started a fruit box delivery business and had our tour guides driving vans around the Gold Coast and Tweed.”

They also used the quieter time to reformulate the avocado-based skincare range Tropicology – creating a new organic formula that was relaunched late 2021.

Another focus of the business is on sharing the finest nature has to offer, which is celebrated in various ways. In the café, this involves showcasing seasonal produce, at times offering jakfruit nachos or dragon fruit and rollinia fruit cheesecake. While visitors can blend their own selection of fresh tropical fruit into ice-cream.

With a fruit range that features sapotes (also known as chocolate fruit), custard apples and dragon fruit – there’s an undeniable emphasis on the sweeter things in life.

“The Brinsmead kids drove the direction of what was planted early on, on the family farm,” Aymon says. “And now our customers are almost like a focus group. They try fruit and every day you get an idea of what will be popular – we get feedback really quickly.”

Recently a dragon fruit called Pink Panther was a hit with visitors. “90 out of 100 people rave about it, so that’s something we’re now planting commercially,” he says.

It’s a place that always throws up new wonders, Aymon says, not only for the thousands of visitors it hosts every year, but also for the people who know it like the back of their hand.

“Just last week we found a local native tree that was in our bush tucker garden. It’s a black apple, endemic around Mount Warning. We planted it 25 years ago and all of a sudden it’s fruiting for the first time,” he says.

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